Showing posts from May, 2008

No truth in rumours of Red Arrows olympics ban.

I just found in my spam filters a chain email promoting an e-petition which complains that the Red Arrows have been banned from appearing at the 2012 London Olympics because they are deemed 'too British'. My initial reaction was horrified disbelief: this turned out to be justified, because an internet search took about 30 seconds to refute the story. London 2012 has responded to reports that the Red Arrows have been banned from the Opening Ceremony of the Games, describing the rumours as 'utter nonsense'. The London 2012 Organising Committee will decide what to include in all celebrations and they will be a showcase of the best the UK has to offer. But with five years to go, decisions are yet to be made on what the celebrations will look like. The Red Arrows have in fact been used before in connection to London and the Games. They did a spectacular fly over of Trafalgar Square in London to celebrate winning the bid in July 2005, and also flew over the Mall when the Athe

400 hospital jobs to be lost in Cumbria

About 10% of the 4,000 people employed at the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals trust which runs West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and the Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle, representing about a loss of about 400 jobs over the two hospitals. There is expected to be a programme of voluntary redundancies combined with redployment and natural wastage: large scale redundancies are not expected. West Cumberland hospital is one of the largest employers in West Cumbria and this is not good news for the area: it also comes when the people employed by the trust have been having a difficult time and this will mean further stress for them. I hope the trust will make every effort to resolve the situation quickly without compulsory redundancies so that the employees know where they stand. More details can be found on my "Support West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog, see link at right.

Labour fails to meet two-thirds of its targets

The following recent article from the Telegraph reports government figures which were released the day after C&N, and which show that that Labour has not met its own objectives By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor The Government has failed to meet two-thirds of its own targets in a fresh blow to Gordon Brown's credibility. Out of 76 targets set for public spending departments, from transport to health, Labour failed to deliver on 50, leading to new claims by the Conservatives that Mr Brown is "letting Britain down". Key targets that ministers have failed to deliver on include reducing levels of reoffending; halving children in poverty; raising educational standards in secondary schools; reducing health inequalities; improving the lives of vulnerable elderly people; and getting more people to use public transport. The failures were unmasked with the release by nine departments of their annual reports. Jack Straw's Ministry of Justice missed seven of its targe

Duff prediction of the decade ...

One of the traps facing anyone in politics is the temptation to believe what you want to believe rather than what is actually true. That's one of the reasons why I am advising my fellow Conservatives that we cannot take victory at the next election for granted but need to keep working on the right policies for Britain and to persuade the voters that a vote for us is not just the most effective way to get rid of Labour but a vote for a positive change. I quote the comment below as an example of the way it is possible to misread a political situation if you listen only to what you want to hear. I was going back over some of the discussion on Nick Robinson's blog, when I found this prediction which was posted the day before the C&N by-election. Probably the duff prediction of the decade, but nevertheless a dreadful warning of how out of touch a political activist can get ... At 09:35 am on 21 May 2008, Gary Elsby wrote: "I spent yesterday in Crewe and Nantwich canvassing

Quote of the Day

I am indebted to Iain Dale's blog where a gentleman named Patrick posted the following: 'If at first you don't succeed, maybe bomb disposal is not for you'.

Time for an independent body to set MPs pay and conditions

Repeated stories in the press about the pay and expenses of MPs, MEPs, and councillors, and what changes might be made to them are shredding what is left of the reputation of parliament and politics in this country. This cannot go on. David Cameron was right to adopt the policy that a future Conservative government will give people the "Right to Know" with more transparent information about how MPs. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have said that they are in favour of an independent body setting MPs pay rather than have the House of Commons vote on its members' own remuneration. So if the Prime Minister was serious about this, it should be implemented now, and let that independent body review the various proposals for changes to the expenses system which are currently being floated. I have always said that neither councillors nor MPs should be put in the invidious position of setting their own pay. In some cases politicians have been justly accused of voting themselves

Statement from Sir Robert Atkins MEP

There have been a number of press comments about Sir Robert Atkins. I think it is only fair to give his side of the story as given to Conservative Home. "My wife Dulcie was a qualified secretary when I met her in 1968. For 30 years, during my time as an MP, Minister and MEP, she has been my full-time secretary, paid the market rate. This has always been openly declared and well-known. She has also been active in the community for many years, as is the case with many thousands of local councillors who give of their time, over and above their normal working environment. Dulcie is no different, except perhaps that she works during too much of her “leisure” time! My son worked full-time in Brussels for a period after leaving University and was paid at the same – if not slightly lower rate – as other Parliamentary assistants of his age and experience. He was head-hunted away on a much higher salary and ceased working for me in 2004. These employments were legally contracted an

Girl blown off cliff

A teenage girl is recovering in West Cumberland Hospital after being blown over a cliff at St Bees yesterday. She is alive because of the skill and professionalism of the St Bees lifeboat and a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter crew who airlifted her to hospital. The accident prompted a warning from the emergency services about the dangers of walking in high winds, especially near cliffs. Dave Bullingham, the Cumbrian sector manager for the coastguard, urged people to take extra care this summer. Information for this post was taken from the West Cumbrian News and Star.

With apologies to The Clash

I've been following with interest the ongoing blog debate about Gordon Brown's position. Particularly interesting has been to see what Kevin Maguire of the Mirror, the man who is often "credited" with the idea of trying to paint David Cameron as a toff, had to say about Crewe and Nantwich - and the reaction of those who posted comments. You can read his article "Brown's Crewe Cut" at The extraordinary thing is that Kevin Maguire apparently can't help himself and could not resist using the expression "Toff Cameron" in the article. The Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich has got to go down as the most inept by-election campaign for fifty years. Lowlights included insensitive racial comments apparently designed to play on the worst kind of paranoia against the local Polish community, Labour material publicising the fact that some Conservatives had delivered leaflets in a Bentley

Post Office meeting

Copeland Council's response to the proposal to close eight post offices in the borough was finalised yesterday at a meeting of the council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Economic Development. We pointed out that Copeland, which is one of the most remote if not the most remote area of England had been targetted for an above average proportion of closures - 25% of our post offices are proposed for closure compared with an average of 18% in England and Cumbria. This is contrary to the government agreement on "West Cumbria Proofing". We pointed out that an extraordinary proportion of the minority of post offices in the area which have full disabled accedss and comply with the Disabilityh Discrimination Act have been targetted for closure. We pointed out a large numbers of mistakes in the Post Office's access report and asked that all eight closure proposals in Copeland should be reconsidered.

After Crewe and Nantwich ...

I was pleased to hear David Cameron state after the stunning Conservative victory in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election that there would be no tory complacency and no "tory triumphalism". He was right. Although the fact and size of this Conservative gain is a sign that voters in at least one constituency are prepared to consider voting for us in the numbers that would put David Cameron in number 10, that does not mean that we have yet convinced enough people that they should move beyond thinking about electing a Conservative government to actually doing so. Only a foolish Conservative optimist could imagine that a Conservative government is now inevitable, and we have to earn the privilege of being elected to govern the country by putting forward a positive vision for Britain. We have to learn two lessons from the behaviour of Tony Blair at the equivalent stage of the 1992-97 parliament - one thing which he did absolutely right and one aspect of this approach which was absolu

Joe Bragg R.I.P.

I've met a lot of very nice people since moving to West Cumbria - it has to be one of the friendliest places on earth - but Joseph Bragg MBE who died on Friday at the age of 80 was one of the nicest. A true gentleman, the number of ways in which he served the community is far too long to list, but I will remember him for his ready smile. Joe's funeral will be held at 12.15 tomorrow (Thursday) at St James' Church, Whitehaven.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater ...

British society has changed a great deal in the past fifty years. People are organising their lives and families in a greater range of ways, and the law needs to reflect that. But one thing which has not changed is the needs of children for a secure upbringing. It is all too easy for those on either side of any political or social debate to pay lip service to the need for the law to protect the interests of children but fail to recognise that sometimes this will mean things which interfere with their cherished ideas. This applies to hardliners on both sides in the debate on gay adoption and it applies to yesterday's vote on whether fertility clinics should be required to take account of children's need for a father. The majority in the present parliament who voted to remove that requirement argued that they were removing discrimination against lesbian couples. Unfortunately they were throwing a baby's genuine needs out with the bathwater of prejudice. This law is a bad mist

Inverted snobbery in Crewe and Nantwich

What school a candidate went to, and who his or her parents were, should not be a major factor in an election, certainly not when compared his or her abilities and policies. The comments I am about to make are a criticism of the childishness and hypocrisy of the Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich, not about the origins of the Labour candidate. All parties have unfortunately been occasionally guilty of petty stunts at election times, but the Labour party dressing people up as "Toffs" was sillier than most. This would have been unwise at the best of times. To use such a tactic just after the party got themselves in their 10p tax shambles when they increased taxes on the poor to pay for tax cuts for "Toffs" was spectacularly incompetent. And to do so in a by-election in which it is the Labour candidate, not the tory, who has an entry in Burke's Peerage and Gentry - go to the URL below if you don't believe me - is elevating both hypocrisy and stupidity to an

Bransty & Harbour forum tonight 7pm, Bransty Legion

The Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum will be meeting this evening at 7pm at the legion on Bransty Hill. Agenda items include the management of Parks and Open spaces in Whitehaven: this was placed on the agenda at my request following a letter I received from a Whitehaven resident who was concerned about the condition of one particular area and asked if the forum could discuss it.

Copeland Refuse strike likely from 27 May

The Unite union's T&G section has notified Copeland Council that their members working in the council's refuse department have voted for indefinite strike action from 27th May. The dispute is about the duration of the working day. It is not yet certain what services will remain available. The council says that it intends to give priority to black sacks, black bins, trade waste and clinical waste collections. Garden waste and bulky collections are likely to be suspended for the duration of the dispute. Kerbside recyclinlg services are also likely to be affected but recycling sites will not. The council says that it has offered a deal which would include a reduced working week, and an increase in both the hourly rate of pay and the overtime rate, with a flexible working day of between 6.5 hours and 9 hours. The union wants a fixed standard day of 7.5 hours. Attempts are being made to seek mediation to avoid a strike but at the moment it does not appear likely that these will

Post Offices

On Friday and Saturday Copeland Council's Economic Development committee, of which I am a member, sat for two days hearing evidence about the Post Office closure proposals for Copeland. The evidence we heard demonstrated that the issues around post office closures are more complex than many people might imagine, but we also heard enough evidence to build a strong case that in several respects the proposals unfairly disadvantage the Copeland area For example - * Many post offices are not fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA): the Copeland proposals target for closure an extraordinary proportion of those post offices which are, including several offices on which both the Post Office through disability access grants and the owners have recently invested large sums on disabled access. * The overall target fot the proportion of post offices to close is 18%. This is supposed to be applied equitably accross the country. Yet the proportion of offices proposed for

The 10p compensation con

George Osborne has attacked Labour's plans to raise the personal tax allowance, saying, "First we got the tax con - and now we are getting the compensation con." The Shadow Chancellor made it clear that he supported any effort to compensate those hit by Gordon Brown's axing of the 10p tax rate - but that Labour had failed to address the root cause of the problem. "This help is for one year only. It is a one-off payment, a one-off solution for tax rises that hit every single year." George criticised Alistair Darling for not putting in place a long-term plan to compensate people, and accused him of only acting because Labour were "panicking" about the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. He also pointed out that 1.1 million low-earners, on incomes between £6,635 and £13,355, will still lose out by up to £112 a year.

Feedback from Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I attended the Millom Neighbourhood Forum this evening in the Network centre at Millom School. Main subjects for discussion were 1) the Minerals and Waste plan from Cumbria County Council, the Core Strategy and Development Control principles of which are currently out to consultation and awaiting examiniation in public in November 2) the future of neighbourhood forums, which may be adjusted to reflect the proposed "locality working" which the government is keen to introduce. There was a good discussion - I found particularly powerful the comment from one or two local Millom residents and councillors that if we are going to have locality working it is a shame that it appears to be being driven top down from central government rather than bottom up from the localities concerned. Forthcoming meetings - Copeland and Allerdale Councils both have their annual meetings in the next two days. The next Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum meeting is on 20th May.

Ironic comment of the week ...

Have been following the internet debate about the local elections. I did enjoy the following comment by "Mirthios" on the Political Betting site this morning - only the last line giving away that this post was actually an ironic one ... "The YouGov/Evening Standard internet polls have been transparently used to try to influence the election by suggesting incredible leads for Boris Johnson when all conventional polls by companies like Ipsos-MORI and ICM have shown the election to be neck and neck. A YouGov/Evening Standard poll on Thursday was just another attempt to deflect voters from the enormous stakes for London in this election by suggesting a Johnson lead which simply does not exist. The fact that it was accurate is even more annoying."

Local Election Results

This week's local elections represented a very positive move forward for the Conservative Party. These results are not just a vote against Gordon Brown and his Government. They are a positive vote of confidence in the Conservatives. People see a Party that has changed for the better, that is united and that has a strong team of leaders. Increasingly, they are looking to us to speak out on the issues they really care about - on improving our schools and the NHS, keeping down the cost of living and dealing with crime on our streets. So far, the results show that we have achieved a 44 per cent vote share and have already gained 256 seats in these elections. We have taken control of 16 councils, including Bury, North Tyneside and the Vale of Glamorgan, and gained seats from Labour from Sunderland to Southampton, and from Cardiff to Great Yarmouth. This looks like Labour’s worst vote share – at 24 per cent – since records began in 1973. Labour are now in third place, behind the Li

Whitehaven Golf Course

There have been two chains of debate on this blog about Whitehaven Golf Course. * One relating to the planning aspects where it is clear that the developer failed to one of the conditions of the planning approval relating to the siting, and * Concerns over whether the council obtained "Best Value" for the sale of the freehold of the course. This is also the subject of a complaint to the Auditor. Unless and until the Auditor's report brings a new perspective to bear I stand by my earlier comments on this blog about the sale of the course, but in the interests of accuracy I have removed comments about the planning permission on some earlier posts which further investigation has established were not correct. The current planning situation is that 1) The course was built in the wrong place and in breach of one of the conditions 2) This breach of planning control has not yet been resolved or regularised 3) The course was built in a location which obstructs a right-of-way.

Rubbish bin saga

The fine imposed on a Whitehaven bus driver for putting four inches' worth too much rubbish in his bin has been paid by an anonymous donor. A Shewsbury company which makes Refuse compactors, "Waste Pact" has donated to the family one of their products called “The Little Crusher” which should prevent the issue from arising again. fits in the kitchen. The Rector of Whitehaven, the Reverend John Bannister, had orgaganised a collection to pay the fine: he said that several hundred pounds had been pledged to pay the court penalty, with donations ranging from a few pounds to £50, but the amount was covered in full by one anonymous local donor. Tory group leader David Moore, who had repeatedly urged at full council meetings that refuse collection policy should not be managed in a draconian way, said that “Some of us had asked for restraint, not a court case. The council has made itself a laughing stock nationally through all the adverse publicity.” In my view, if the council had

Local Election Day

There are no local elections in Copeland today, but there are elections in many other parts of the country, including Barrow, Carlisle, London, and St Albans. Some people, particularly in the media, will interpret the results as if their main purpose was some kind of "test" of Gordon Brown's government. Voters are entitled to cast their votes however they wish, but interpreting the results as a guide to what would happen in a general election is unreliable, because this is not one. Voters are choosing who they think is best suited to run local government services in their area. I have been to campaign with some of the local Conservative council candidates in Barrow and Carlisle: I think they would do a good job and I hope local voters in Barrow and Carlisle reach the same conclusion. It seems far longer than a year since I stood down from St Albans council and was elected in Copeland. I see that one or two old friends are standing down in St Albans and other old friends a